Small Business Security Priorities for 2017

Friday Dec 30th 2016 by Pedro Hernandez
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Want to keep your data safe in the New Year? Keep an eye on IoT devices, guard your cloud credentials and avoid ransomware at all costs.

A New Year has arrived, along with some big security challenges.

In 2017 the expected proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices across all types of environments will make it tough to ignore the security ramifications. The continued popularity of the cloud will continue to attract the attention of cyberattackers and ransomware authors will keep the IT security industry on its toes.

Here are some of the small business security trends to follow going into a brand-new year.

The Growing IoT Security Threat

There's plenty of excitement surrounding the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) technology market.

Soon, offices will be littered with equipment that monitors its own performance and can schedule preventative maintenance, averting unplanned downtime and costly repairs. Smart homes will adapt to the habits and preferences of their inhabitants while enhancing safety and lowering energy bills.

The downside of this hyperconnected future is that cyberattackers have some sinister ambitions.

In 2016, a couple of massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks highlighted the dangers of an IoT ecosystem that fails to prioritize security. Botnet operators used the collective traffic-generating power of millions of compromised IoT devices, including digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras, to knock a website belonging to Brian Krebs, a prominent security researcher, offline. They disrupted access to major sites including Twitter and Netflix by targeting Domain Name System (DNS) provider Dyn.

In some cases, vulnerabilities in seemingly harmless home automation devices can enable hackers to sneak onto a small business network. Malware-infested servers and other systems could soon follow.

To avoid becoming a victim, security researchers suggest replacing the trivially easy to crack default passwords set by the factory on an IoT devices with a strong one. It's a good first move, but there are additional steps small business owners can take to safeguard their environments when the IoT inevitably invades the workplace. Get more IoT Security Tips to Protect Your Small Business here.

Keep a Lid Cloud Credentials

It's no secret that businesses of all sizes are flocking to the cloud for their IT services and software needs.

The cloud subscription, pay-as-you-go approach appeals to organizations seeking to control IT costs and enable "anywhere, anytime" collaboration by using cloud storage, sync and sharing services. As an added perk, they generally get to enjoy enterprise-grade security and reliability, aside from the occasional outage, of course.  

Unsurprisingly, some crafty attackers have found a way to steal data from cloud storage accounts. Microsoft's latest Security Intelligence Report warns of Man in the attacks (a variation of man-in-the-middle attacks, of sorts).

In a Man in the Cloud attack, "an attacker induces a prospective victim to install a piece of malware using a typical mechanism, such as an email with a link to a malicious website," states the report (PDF), offering another reason to be on the lookout for phishing attempts. "After the malware is downloaded and installed, it finds a cloud storage folder on the user's computer. It then switches out the user's cloud storage synchronization token with the attacker's token."

In the wake of a successful infection, a copy of each file uploaded to the victim's cloud storage account is delivered to the attacker. Making matters worse, attackers can cover their tracks by immediately removing the malware after the tokens have been switched, rendering the breach practically untraceable by anti-virus software.

Ransomware Targets Databases and Microsoft Office

There's another good reason not to fall for phishing emails. Attackers are banking on the likelihood that your small business network is home to a business database and valuable Office applications.

In November, security firm Trend Micro warned of alarming new behavior being exhibited by the popular Cerber family of ransomware. Version 4.1.5 of the malware targets Microsoft Access, Oracle, and MySQL database files, sometimes shutting down those databases to encrypt files that are currently in use.

Ransomware authors are also hoping victims will pay up to recover their business files. Earlier this month, security researchers at Microsoft cautioned that the latest Cerber variant is targeting folders associated with the Office productivity software suite. 

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